September is the time for Photoville. Still along the Brooklyn waterfront in the new and growing Brooklyn Bridge Park, it was relocated this year under the Brooklyn Bridge, bringing participants even closer to the iconic lower Manhattan skyline. The majestic views provided a fabulous environment for communicating and partying, and offered ample photo ops.
The unique part of Photoville is that it is like a village, with exhibits housed in shipping containers placed like little cottages. In addition to the indoor exhibits are the outdoor ones on THE FENCE, and in all, totaled around sixty. As daylight faded, images were also projected onto the container exteriors, making for a wonderful overall environment. Created with global partners, Photoville draws international exposure and participation. This unique mix of people and cultures is what Brooklyn is all about, making this a perfect venue for the event.
Each container exhibited images from either a single source, or, on a given theme. There were many that dealt with global and local social justice issues, photographed by various committed organizations. Some of those included: PROOF: Media for Social Justice (Picture Justice students); the Bronx Documentary Center (Jerome Avenue Workers Project); Médecins San Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (Forced From Home in Virtual Reality); the Open Society (Texting Syria); and Social Documentary Network (with its multi-disciplinary LiveZEKE). Themes ran from war-torn refugees and global migrant crises (Coming Ashore by AP + United Photo Industries), to LGBT and transgendered populations, to African American life over the past fifty years (Breaking Point by Kamoinge, the New York collective of African-American photographers).
One inspirational exhibit was The Portrait Project by NYC SALT, a non-profit photography program for inner-city teens. They photographed their schools, homes, and work scenes, with eyes unafraid of taking chances around focus, lighting, and subject matter—definitely a breath of fresh air and a hopeful view of NYC’s future documentarians.
Particularly moving was Ebola Through the Lens, presented by The Open Society Initiative for West Africa. Its brilliance was that it was not only photographic, but experiential as well. It featured not only images of the sick and dying, but also included a bed and quarantine area where participants were “invited” to linger—placing the viewer right in the middle of the pandemic, leaving them to wonder if they would be among the survivors or the dead. The approach was riveting and emotional, leaving no escape normally afforded by cable news or the internet.
Not everything was heavy; the content was broad, with something for everyone. Also represented were artist websites (Your Art Gallery), students (School of Visual Arts; NYC Salt Students and Alumni; and CUNY Graduate School of Journalism), individual photographers (a comparison of selfies to “real” portraits by photographer Vivian Keulards; Flower Power, Sophie Gamand’s photographic quest to save, through lovely photos, shelter pit bulls), etc. There was SO much.
It’s always nice to see work by ASPP’s friends, ASMP’s NY Chapter. Their gallery held pictures from media photographers in the New York area, curated by aCurator.com’s Julie Grahame.
An important part of this festival is its many talks and panels. One was “Images of Africa: Lessons Learned from Media Coverage,” which looked primarily at the recent Ebola outbreak there and the media’s portrayal of the dire situation—sometimes skewed and framed to influence opinions. Many images showed only helpless African victims and international aid efforts, carefully neglecting the countless Africans (doctors, aid workers, volunteers, etc.) who were mobilized to tackle the issue and were already battling the epidemic. As images were presented, I thought I sensed an uncomfortable shift in the room, as some viewers may have recognized having fallen victim to some amount of manipulation, intentional or otherwise.
It’s amazing to think that what started as an idea on a budget (shipping containers being less expensive than showrooms), became—in the hands of visionary founders Sam Barzilay, Dave Shelley, and Laura Roumanos—one of the most attended photo-based festivals in the country. Photoville is a place to be inspired, to learn, to meet other like-minded individuals, and to enjoy the best view of the city, as well as a beer and a snack—all for a very affordable price. Free. That’s right, the festival is free but the wealth of experience received here is incalculable.